Utility providers of all sizes are faced with the same challenges. Companies hope to reduce call volumes and increase payment collection, all while continuing to provide a top-notch customer service experience.
This type of experience has become more complex because utility customers have changed. The modern customer doesn’t wait for a bill to arrive in the mail so they can pay it. They want more from their utility provider and they are demanding new – yet simple – ways to interact.
This is a byproduct of our Internet culture. Customers demand ultra-simple processes not only in purchasing, but also in their interactions with customer service. However, it’s not enough to be the best at providing excellent customer service in the utility industry. This is because utility customers aren’t comparing their gas provider to their water provider. Instead, they are comparing these interactions with Amazon, The Container Store, and every entity they do business with.
Historically, utility companies have been slow to react to this increasing demand for self-service and improved customer experience. A 2014 Booz Allen report, “Digital Migration for Electric Utilities,” found that only 26 percent of utility companies had developed a mobile application, and we are quickly getting to the point that having an app is table stakes for almost any business.
So, how do utility companies catch up to the demand? Better technology.
The Solution: Cloud Technology
The age of many utilities’ CIS platforms can be measured in decades. Some were built using discontinued programming languages, making it difficult or even impossible to repair or upgrade the system. Additionally, these outdated systems aren’t able to provide the ability to interact with customers across multiple channels. Even if the CIS has core capabilities, utilities should consider an upgrade so they can serve their customers in the way that they want to be served.
That’s easier said than done, especially for mid-size utilities. There are many factors to consider, such as budget limitations and development and implementation timing. What that means is that while the problems that utilities face aren’t unique, the solutions to those problems, at least for the mid-size utility, have to be.
Benefits of a Cloud-based CIS
A cloud-based CIS with proven, built-in processes delivers three distinct benefits over replacing a utility’s existing CIS with another on-premise system.
1) Cloud provides a flexible platform that can be updated as requirements change.
Not only can a cloud platform be ready to use quickly, it is also easy to expand. This makes updating much more manageable than traditional platforms and is the key to the cloud’s flexibility.
Utilities also have access to the advanced features that come with a cloud-based CIS. They include elements and features that certain companies may not need right away, but can be easily added in the future. As the utility grows and the needs of the company or their customers change, the utility can add features and capabilities without expensive upgrades.
2) The financial model is more aligned with the business model.
Budget limitations can force mid-size utilities to buy a Tier 2 or Tier 3 system, even if they can’t provide the kind of service ultimately desired.
Migrating to a cloud-based CIS eliminates upfront expenses associated with installing a traditional CIS. Instead, a cloud system requires a smaller investment at the start of the process, and then becomes a manageable recurring expense going forward.
The cloud makes the total cost of ownership predictable. Utilities won’t have to worry about any unexpected hardware expenses or the possibility of delays causing incurring extra costs.
3) Faster time to benefit.
Moving to a hosted CIS solution means that a utility provider can painlessly update its CIS in a much shorter time.
The data centers are in place, and there is no hardware or software to be procured and installed. This means the backbone for the new system is already up and running.
A cloud-based CIS can also come with proven customer experience processes built in, which aids in faster time to benefit for the utility provider. Adopting these built-in processes, which have the flexibility to adapt to the variables unique to each utility, can cut the time needed to launch a new CIS in half – from 18 to 24 months to just 9.
A cloud-based CIS does more
The way we communicate has changed with technology. Our interactions are now happening over email, text, and social media. Even so, many utilities interact with their customers the same way they did decades ago – a bill sent through the mail or a direct phone call. A cloud-based CIS allows customers to interact with their utility in the method they want.
A cloud-based CIS with multichannel capabilities lets the utility see how the customer wants to connect and then meets them at that point, which is key to keeping customers happy. Customers trying to make a payment or check a balance likely won’t stick around if the processes are long and drawn out, making it harder for you to resolve their issues.
A modern CIS loaded with the right features can track mentions on social media and follow callers through the contact center in real time so they don’t feel like they have to repeatedly provide the same information. It can make it easy to let customers opt into electronic billing, a simple way to boost customer satisfaction.
In fact, the 2014 Booz Allen “Digital Migration” report found that utility customers who received e-bills are 64 percent less likely to call customer service, which can lead to savings for the utility.
While customers may be asking to interact with a utility in a variety of ways, how does a utility know and manage which channels are most preferred by its customers? A modern CIS can track interactions and provide the insight needed so a utility’s preferred channels are optimized and the company can provide a tailored customer experience.
For too long, that data has gone untapped resulting in a customer experience that has felt disjointed. That’s because utilities have evaluated their inbound interaction channels without considering the cross-channel and multichannel customer experience. As a result, interaction channels such as IVR, Web and contact centers have been optimized and tuned independently.
Putting that data to use, though, can allow the utility company to fine tune its channels and have them functioning as one unit.
Choosing the cloud
Better customer experience means better business. But for mid-size utilities, that business can come with a steep cost. That’s where new options like a cloud-based CIS come in. It’s the way that these businesses can build the self-service, multichannel and customized experience that their customers desire, but in a cost efficient way.
The efficiencies involved are too great to ignore — the more reasonable cost structure, the speed of installation, the ease of expansion and the enhanced customer service.
The business world is quickly moving to the cloud, and mid-size utility companies would be smart to make the trip as well.